Recent News from Engadget

Meta has reportedly barred employees from discussing abortion on internal channels

Meta has told employees not to discuss the Supreme Court’s recent ruling to overturn Roe v. Wade, according to The New York Times. Pointing to a May 12th memo it shared after a draft of Friday’s decision was leaked by Politico, the company has deleted …

FromSoftware’s next game is ‘in the final stages’ of development

FromSoftware fans may not have to wait years before they get the chance to play the company’s next game. In a recent Japanese-language interview translated by Gematsu, Elden Ring director and From president Hidetaka Miyazaki said his studio’s next game is in “the final stages” of development. Miyazaki shared the tidbit in response to a question about a previous interview he gave in 2018.

At the time, he told 4Gamer.net that FromSoftware was working on “three-and-a-half games.” Since then, the studio has released all but one of those projects. In 2018, we got Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice and PSVR exclusive Déraciné. This year, From came out with Elden Ring, leaving only one of the projects Miyazaki mentioned in 2018 unaccounted for. “Development is currently in the final stages,” he told 4Gamer.net this week when asked about the state of that game.

Miyazaki didn’t go on to share any other details on the project. However, some fans, citing a Resetera leak from January, have speculated the unannounced game could be a new entry in From’s long-running Armored Core series. The studio hasn’t released a new mainline entry in the franchise since 2012. In the same interview, Miyazaki also said he was already working on his next game as director, and that he would like to create a “more abstract fantasy” title in the future. 

Google tells workers they can relocate ‘without justification’ following Supreme Court decision

Google will allow employees to move between states in response to the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. In an email obtained by The Verge, the company’s chief people officer, Fiona Cicconi, said workers could “apply for relocation without justification,” and that those managing the requests would be “aware of the situation.” Cicconi also reminded workers Google’s employee benefits plan covers medical procedures that aren’t available in the state where they live and work.

“This is a profound change for the country that deeply affects so many of us, especially women,” Cicconi says in the email. “Everyone will respond in their own way, whether that’s wanting space and time to process, speaking up, volunteering outside of work, not wanting to discuss it at all, or something else entirely.”

The Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade as part of its ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization eliminated the constitutional right to abortion. According to an analysis published by The New York Times in May, as many as 28 states could either ban or severely restrict access to abortions in the days and weeks ahead. Some states like Texas had so-called trigger laws in place that went into effect immediately following Friday’s decision.

The effects of such a monumental shift in American politics have been felt across tech. Mere hours after the Supreme Court announced its decision, Flo, one of the most widely used period tracking apps, said it would introduce a new “anonymous mode” in response to privacy concerns following the ruling. Some companies like Meta have also reportedly told employees not to openly discuss the ruling.

Update 4:57PM ET: Google confirmed the authenticity of the email and told Engadget it has not changed its relocation policy since the Supreme Court’s ruling.  

Apple reportedly won’t challenge historic Maryland store unionization vote

Apple will reportedly not challenge the recent vote by employees at its Towson Town Center retail location in Maryland to unionize. Citing a “person familiar with the company’s plans,” Reuters reports the tech giant will participate in the bargaining p…

US senators ask FTC to investigate Apple and Google over mobile tracking

A group of Democratic senators is urging the Federal Trade Commission to investigate Apple and Google over their collection of mobile users’ information. In a letter addressed to FTC Chair Lina Khan, the lawmakers — Senators Ron Wyden, Elizabeth Warren, Cory A. Booker and Sara Jacobs — accuse the tech giants of “engaging in unfair and deceptive practices by enabling the collection and sale of hundreds of millions of mobile phone users’ personal data.” They added that the companies “facilitated these harmful practices by building advertising-specific tracking IDs into their mobile operating systems.”

The senators specifically mentioned in their letter how individuals seeking abortions will become particularly vulnerable if their data, especially their location information, is collected and shared. They wrote the letter shortly before the Supreme Court officially overturned Roe v. Wade, making abortion immediately illegal in states with trigger laws. They explained that data brokers are already selling location information of people visiting abortion providers. The senators also stressed how that information can now be used by private citizens incentivized by “bounty hunter” laws targeting individuals seeking an abortion. 

Android and Google were built with tracking identifiers that are used for advertising purposes. While the identifiers are supposed to be anonymous, the senators said data brokers are selling databases linking them to consumer names, email addresses and telephone numbers. Apple rolled out an update for iOS last year to implement stricter app tracking privacy measures, requiring apps to ask for permission before collecting users’ unique Identification for Advertisers device code. 

Google, they said, still enables that tracking identifier by default. The company previously introduced features to make it harder to track users across apps, though, and it recently vowed to refine Privacy Sandbox on Android, “with the goal of introducing new, more private advertising solutions.” The tech giant told Ars Technica: “Google never sells user data, and Google Play strictly prohibits the sale of user data by developers… Any claims that advertising ID was created to facilitate data sale are simply false.”

Despite the solutions the companies had introduced, the lawmakers said they’d already caused harm. They’re now asking the FTC to look into the role Apple and Google played in “transforming online advertising into an intense system of surveillance that incentivizes and facilitates the unrestrained collection and constant sale of Americans’ personal data.”

Wyden and 41 other Democratic lawmakers also urged Google last month to stop collecting and keeping location data that could be used against people who’ve had or are seeking abortions. More recently, another group of lawmakers led by Sen. Mark Warner and Rep. Elissa Slotkin asked the company to “crack down on manipulative search results” that lead people seeking abortions to anti-abortion clinics” instead.

Recommended Reading: A blockchain primer

Does the crypto crash mean the blockchain Is over?

Stephen J. Dubner, Freakonomics Radio

In this installment of Recommended Listening, Freakonomics Radio begins a three-part series on all things blockchain. The podcast will tackle everything from Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies to NFTs and the technology that powers it all. 

Spotify’s billion-dollar bet on podcasting has yet to pay off

Lucas Shaw, Bloomberg

Shaw takes us inside Spotify’s big spending spree, from what was happening behind the scenes, the decision to hand Joe Rogan a mountain of money and a rift between the company and the Obamas over content. “All told, the Obamas recorded about 15 hours of audio for Spotify,” he explains. “Technically, they fulfilled their deal, but their output was less than what Rogan releases in a couple of weeks.”

How OXO conquered the American kitchen

Dan Kois, Slate

The story behind the company that created the Good Grips handle and took over the kitchen “for customers of differing abilities and confidence levels,” becoming the top culinary gadget maker in terms of market share. 

Juul can temporarily keep selling its vaping products in the US

Juul has successfully convinced the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia to delay the Food and Drug Administration’s ban on its products. The agency recently banned Juul from selling and distributing its e-cigarette pens and pods in the US after a comprehensive two-year review. It ordered the company to remove its products from the market and has even started telling retailers from pull them from shelves. This temporary reprieve will allow Juul to keep selling its vape pens and pods — and will allow retailers to keep carrying them without the fear of facing penalties — while the court reviews its appeal on the FDA’s decision. 

In its request for an emergency stay, Juul called the FDA ban “arbitrary and capricious.” It also said that the agency issued the ruling after “immense political pressure from Congress,” because it became politically convenient for them to blame Juul for the popularity of vaping among young people, “even though several of its competitors now have a larger market share and much higher underage-use rates.” 

Despite Juul’s accusation, the FDA didn’t mention youth vaping in its decision. Instead, the agency said it was banning the company’s products, because it didn’t submit sufficient evidence proving that potentially harmful chemicals don’t leach from its proprietary pods into the vapor that users inhale. The agency explained: “…some of the company’s study findings raised concerns due to insufficient and conflicting data – including regarding genotoxicity and potentially harmful chemicals leaching from the company’s proprietary e-liquid pods – that have not been adequately addressed and precluded the FDA from completing a full toxicological risk assessment of the products named in the company’s applications.”

Juul, of course, disagreed that it hasn’t provided sufficient information and data to the agency. In a statement it sent to Engadget, the company said: “In our applications, which we submitted over two years ago, we believe that we appropriately characterized the toxicological profile of Juul products, including comparisons to combustible cigarettes and other vapor products, and believe this data, along with the totality of the evidence, meets the statutory standard of being appropriate for the protection of the public health.”

Juul has a long history of butting heads with the FDA, particularly over underage vaping. Its fruit-flavored vape products were once pretty popular among young people until it suspended their sales and stuck to selling menthol and tobacco-flavored pods. Juul also faced a Federal Trade Commission and a House investigation into whether its marketing efforts targeted teens. Things have changed over the past few years: According to a recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, most high school students that use e-cigarettes now favor Puff Bar over any other brand. 

According to The New York Times, the court gave Juul until Monday to file an additional motion. The FDA will then have until July 7th to respond to that. It still remains to be seen whether Juul will be able to continue selling its vaping pens and pods in the US throughout the course of its appeal. Sources told The Wall Street Journal that Juul has started exploring its options if it fails to reverse the ban completely, including filing for bankruptcy.

Court OKs lawsuit by woman who says she helped create Pinterest

Pinterest must now face a lawsuit from a former friend of one of its founders who claims she helped create the platform. Bloombergreported that Alameda County Superior Court Judge Richard Seabolt on Thursday denied the company’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit. Christine Martinez, the plaintiff, claims she was asked by co-founder Ben Silbermann to help revive the app. The digital market strategist claims to have developed features tied to Pinterest’s Boards and created a marketing plan to enlist bloggers to promote the platform, among other contributions. 

Martinez filed a lawsuit against the company in September, and Pinterest filed the motion to dismiss in December. The company argued that Martinez’s claims are too old to fall within the statute of limitations. Seabolt disagreed with this and said Martinez “sufficiently alleges” that she and the Pinterest founders agreed to deferred compensation. Pinterest went public in 2019, an event that Seabolt deemed “transformative” and in his view sealed the company’s obligation to pay Martinez.

In a statement to Engadget, Pinterest’s chief communications officer LeMia Jenkins Thompson noted that the court dismissed several of Martinez’s claims. Thompson also stated that, “as the facts come out, we are confident the evidence will confirm that Plaintiff’s claims are meritless and that the rest of this baseless lawsuit should be dismissed.” 

According to the New York Times, Martinez was never formally employed at nor did she ever sign a written contract with the San Francisco-based company. Instead, Martinez argues that the agreement was implied, based on her discussions with Sciarra and Silbermann.

Martinez, who is a former lifestyle blogger and founder of an eccomerce startup, told the Times she was eager to help friends. “[…The Pinterest co-founders] had no marketing background or expertise in creating a product for women.”

Paralyzed race driver completes Goodwood hill climb using head movement to steer

Former Indy Racing League competitor Sam Schmidt is continuing to break new ground for accessible driving technology. The Arrow McLaren SP team co-owner has completed the signature hill climb at this year’s Goodwood Festival of Speed using head movements and his breath to steer — the first time anyone has demonstrated the feature at the UK event. Schmidt drove a McLaren 720S Spider modified by Arrow Electronics to track his head using infrared cameras. He controlled acceleration and braking by inhaling and exhaling through a “sip-and-puff” device. The racer also wore a semi-autonomous exoskeleton concept, the SAM Suit, that helps him walk.

Schmidt became quadriplegic in 2000 when he injured his spinal cord in a practice lap crash. He has long been an advocate for paralysis treatment, and in 2014 partnered with Arrow to drive a Corvette using a combination of head tracking, sip-and-puff and voice controls. In 2016, became the first American with a license to use an autonomous vehicle on highways, using a Corvette to drive in Nevada.

While alternative mobility solutions can return some level of autonomy to those no longer able to operate a vehicle for one reason or another, it’s not entirely clear what role Arrow’s technology might play in the future. We’ve reached out to the company for details on where it sees projects like the SAM heading. Arrow will also be racing against self-driving tech, which is becoming closer to a practical reality, with Level 3 autonomy already reaching public roads. With that said, completely driverless cars (Level 5 autonomy) will take years to arrive.

Update 6/24/22 7:27pm ET: Reached for comment, an Arrow spokesperson told Engadget that while SAM “is not precisely open source” the tech may be “available for future development if Arrow approves.”

Period tracker app Flo developing ‘anonymous mode’ following Supreme Court ruling

Flo, one of the most widely used period tracking apps, says it intends to launch a new "anonymous mode" in an effort to address privacy concerns in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. “We will soon be launching a…